By By Craig Ziemba / guest columnist
June 2, 2002
Craig Ziemba is a pilot who lives in Meridian.
I was one of quite a few citizen soldiers of the Air National Guard who returned this week from a deployment to the Middle East in support of the war in Afghanistan. Coming home after being away from family and country has always been an emotionally powerful experience for me, whether I was in whites on the deck of an aircraft carrier steaming into Norfolk or, more recently, landing a KC-135 at Key Field.
A homecoming to family is even more wonderful when it means coming home to America, and landing in Mississippi on a beautiful week in May brought to mind quite a few reasons why I love our little part of the South.
I've traveled all over Europe, the Middle East and South America, and although I've seen much prettier places, nowhere ever felt so much like home. To twist a common phrase, Meridian is not a great place to visit, but you certainly would want to live there.
Tell people who have never been here that you're from Mississippi and they'll conjure up dark images from our past or recall statistics on poverty or educational disparity. It's true that there's plenty about our past we'd like to forget and much about the present we're trying to change, but there are also quite a few things about Mississippi I hope we never lose.
I like the way people I don't know wave at me when they drive by on a two-lane highway. I like having kids call my wife and I "Mr. Craig" and "Miss Jenny" and say "yes, sir" and "yes, ma'am." There's a gentility and respect in the way people treat each other in the rural South that I just don't feel anywhere else.
I like seeing families dressed for church on Sunday morning. I like not being able to go to the grocery without seeing someone I know. I like knowing that my neighbors will look in on the animals when we are out of town and bring by dinner if someone is sick. We're becoming connected to the rest of the world through technology, and that's great, but I hope we never lose the personal hospitality that makes Southerners distinct.
I like brown-eyed Susans on the shoulder of the road and dogwoods blooming in March. I like hearing turkeys gobbling on the roost before sunrise and bobwhites calling their names in the heat of the day. I love the whistling of a wood duck's wings and the mournful call of the whippoorwill at dusk. I've caught tuna off of Cape Hatteras and king mackerel in the Gulf, but there's something about bobber fishing for bluegills that excites me still. I'm all in favor of bringing new business to the state, but I hope we develop in such a way that leaves room for the natural beauty that enriches all of us. That'd be real progress.
I like buying feed at the Co-op. I like the huge magnolia at the courthouse and the vine-covered oak on Poplar Springs and 24th Street. I like the masonry and mill work on the old buildings downtown. I love sweating at Bonita Lakes on the Fourth of July and freezing my tail off at the Christmas parade.
I love the vegetables at Jean's ( cooked down soft with a little bacon) and the fried catfish at Tommy's. I like knowing I can get sweet tea at every restaurant in town. I like hearing people say "mess of greens," "fixin' to," and "how's your momandthem."
What's so great about coming home to Mississippi? Everything I guess.